Losing a spouse is emotionally, physically, financially and spiritually devastating. Virtually every aspect of life changes with the loss of a partner. What’s more, even as life changes must still be faced, the grief can seem insurmountable. Losing a spouse is viewed as the most stressful of all possible losses. In order to navigate it, self-kindness is a must. As is the knowledge that this is a process, not an event.
Take good care and seek emotional support, even if it seems unnecessary. Know that there is something commonly called "complicated grief" which can cause additional complications. Learn about the signs of complicated grief in the last section of this article. The following are a few strategies for coping.
Embrace the Grieving Process
Grieving is a process, and it is a different process for everybody. There is no universal pathway to get through it, nor will any one person experience grief like anyone else. It can help to recognize this and learn to embrace it. Oprah.com says to anticipate a multitude of emotions that may come in waves. And when the emotions come, it’s OK to mourn and give in to these feelings. It’s all part of the process.
Grief may make it difficult — at times even impossible — to take care of physical needs. But these things are imperative. Grieving can take a toll on the body which could lead to illness if neglect sets in. Strive to get enough sleep and eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Exercise regularly and avoid self-medicating with alcohol or other things. But don’t be afraid to ask for help either. If sleep eludes, talk to a physician about it rather than suffering.
Seek Emotional Support
The National Institute on Aging is an ardent supporter of grief counseling. Sure, one can lean on family and friends for support, but sometimes it helps to talk to people who are more familiar with this level of loss. Looking specifically for grief counseling can help in a variety of ways through experienced care. Ask a counselor for help in locating specific groups or therapists.
Remain Active and Social
There will be days when getting out of bed is the biggest challenge possible, and everyone should honor that. However, it can become a habit so taking steps to avoid that kind of slippage is imperative to long-term wellbeing. Make an effort to remain active and social. Keep busy and put one foot in front of the other, minute by minute if necessary. Being busy and social can help people get through daily grief but it helps especially well in difficult times, such as the holidays.
Recognize When Help is Needed
About 7% of people develop what is known as complicated grief disorder after losing a loved one. As the name implies, this is a complicated condition that requires medical intervention. The signs of complicated grief disorder include:
- Unbearable depression that doesn’t lift
- Obsession with the departed
- Sleeping problems
- Feelings of gloom and doom
- Worsening mental health conditions
- Reckless behavior
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal ideation or behavior
- Inability to manage daily affairs
If any of these things are true, it’s vital to seek help from a medical or psychiatric professional. We can’t always handle things on our own. And you shouldn’t expect it of yourself. Asking for help when needed is one of the bravest things a person can do.
Grieving is a difficult process, and it can take time. One of the best things during this dark time is to practice kindness and to understand that no two people grieve the same way. Do not judge or be overly harsh with yourself or others in this period of grief. Instead, embrace the journey and allow plenty of time and space to heal.